Fact: a terrible night’s sleep (or an all nighter) can leave you feeling awful the next day. Unfortunately, more than 60 million Americans suffer from poor sleep and over one third of Americans don’t get at least the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Clearly, the importance of sleep is not spoken about nearly enough, says Melissa Snover, registered nutritionist, and CEO and founder of Nourished.
Sleep is how your body rejuvenates and restores itself. That’s why we need to “wake up to the importance of sleep, pun intended,” says Abhinav Singh, M.D., M.P.H., facility director at the Indiana Sleep Center. “It is vitally important for the entire body, head to toe. Every organ system relies on repairing and restoring itself while sleeping.”
A lack of sleep, or sleep deprivation, can have extensive side effects aside from fatigue. Both Snover and Dr. Singh note that acute sleep loss can lead to memory loss, loss of focus, stress, and poor decision making. Extended or chronic sleep loss can lead to weight gain, chronic mood disorders, and even heart disease.
“You spend one third of your life sleeping,” says Dr. Singh. “Better sleep equals better health equals a better life. Invest in it.”
Natural solutions might help you sleep
Experts agree that if you’re having trouble getting some quality shut-eye, a natural sleep aid is worth a try over options like alcohol or pharmaceuticals, which of course can have negative side effects. Dr. Singh explains that the natural sleep aids below all “have some element of assistance they can provide,” but notes that if you ever find yourself relying on anything, even if it’s considered natural, it’s time to speak to a professional.
These herbs and supplements may increase relaxation, leading to sleep. However, not all of these natural sleep aids have extensive research behind them, which means that the help provided can be subjective and you might have to find out for yourself if they work for you.
It is also worth noting that natural solutions can still cause side effects. The most notable is increased drowsiness the following day. Speak to your doctor before trying anything, and be aware of any possible interactions with other medications you may be taking.
Effective natural sleep aids
If a lack of sleep is affecting your life, the good news is that there are lots of ways to improve your sleep, starting tonight, including natural options. The most important thing is to recognize the issues caused by a lack of sleep and to then make sleep a priority. “Sleep is a good investment,” says Snover. “Everyone is busy, but you have to make time for sleep.” Try some of these natural sleep aids below to help you drift off into dreamland.
Melatonin is one of the most popular natural sleep aids on the market. Dr. Singh notes that compared to many other options, it has the largest amount of research behind it. “Melatonin is a hormone our body already produces and it may have some benefit in shortening time to fall sleep,” Dr. Singh explains. There is no official recommended dosage for melatonin, but experts at The Sleep Foundation suggest a dosage of half a milligram to five milligrams one hour before bed.
2. Cherry extract
Cherry extract, or tart cherry juice, is another option Snover recommends. “Studies show it keeps you in a deep sleep up to 90 minutes longer on average,” Snover explains. This is important because in addition to trouble falling asleep, many people also have trouble staying asleep, she says.
Magnesium is a mineral that is naturally found in many foods and is important for overall bodily function. It is proven to help with bodily repair and improve nerve function, which is “helpful for good sleep quality,” Snover explains. Magnesium is found in a lot of foods we eat, such as whole grains and dark, leafy vegetables. If you’d like to supplement with it, experts suggest not surpassing two hundred milligrams. Try taking magnesium about thirty minutes before bed.
Frequently used to brew tea, chamomile is a herb known for its calming qualities. Research shows that it to be a “sleep inducer” and can be used as “a mild sedative to calm nerves and reduce anxiety, to treat nightmares, insomnia, and other sleep problems,” according to the National Institutes of Health.
5-HTP is a natural chemical produced by amino acids found in our bodies, which aids with serotonin production. When taken supplementally at a dosage ranging from two hundred to four hundred milligrams it may boost serotonin and melatonin production, which are helpful for a number of conditions, including sleep difficulties. Snover explains that serotonin and melatonin are the body’s “natural sleep hormones,” and keeping these hormones in balance is crucial for overall health. But remember, talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.
Lavender is another natural remedy used by many for its calming properties. It is commonly used in aromatherapy or in tea blends. In a study on the inhalation of lavender essential oil researchers found that using lavender in the form of aromatherapy to be a “safe, accessible, and effective intervention for self-reported sleep issues.”
7. Valerian root
Valerian root is an herbal supplement widely used as a tea or supplement for sleep and relaxation. The Sleep Foundation states that herb has been shown to safely improve relaxation and sleep, but should always be used with caution and should not be used long term or with other sleep aids, sedatives, or anti-anxiety medications. Snover notes that valerian root is considered a sedative, unlike other natural sleep aids like magnesium and melatonin. The sedative nature of valerian root can be helpful in providing relief for sleep issues, but may cause drowsiness the following day.
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